Changes to distracted driving penalties take effect July 1

If you're caught three times in ten years, it could mean not only a $2,500 fine but it could also land you in jail for six months.

Posted: Jun. 15, 2018 5:55 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- When the penalties for distracted driving in Oregon change July 1, each offense will start adding up.

Officials with the Oregon Department of Transportation said they want people to view distracted driving just like they do drunk driving and hope the change in the law will in turn change driving behavior.

“What we are trying to do is adjust the safety culture around driving and distracted driving so that people are looking at this similarly to driving under the influence,” said Kelly Kapri, the Distracted Driving Program Manager for ODOT. “It's just as bad if not worse, research tells us.”

Starting July 1, a first offense that doesn't cause a crash could result in a $1,000 fine. The second offense, or first if it caused a crash, could cost you $2,500. If you're caught three times in ten years, it could mean not only a $2,500 fine, but it could also land you in jail for six months.

Kiara Wlicox just passed her driving test. Her dad Ben hopes these changes will mean more drivers will follow the law.

"When you’re out there and you're swerving in and out of others people's lanes, and people are having to make adjusts on the road because of your need to be on your phone," said Ben Wilcox. "You know? Absolutely."

While Kiara says she'll think twice before she answers a text behind the wheel, she believes the cost of the fines are too high.

"I can understand the six months in jail three times ten years. That's understandable, but money like that, no," said Kiara Wlicox.

ODOT said this year there have been 172 fatal crashes, a nearly 18-percent increase. ODOT believes many were the result of distracted drivers.

They hope the new changes to the law makes drivers put down their phones and focus on the road. Courts have the ability to offer first offenders a distracted driving avoidance course to wave the fine.

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